By Dave Morrison
WHITE SULPHUR SPRINGS —
For Greg McGraw, the tribute is simple. And fitting.
“I always mark my ball in blue and gold, just like Ben did,” McGraw said Thursday after the second round of what will be the Daniels golfer’s final state amateur. “And I use a No. 7 ball, just like Ben did. That was his ball.”
McGraw was talking about paying tribute to his son Ben, who died April 1, 2010.
The father and son shared a bond in the game of golf, though neither likely thought that would be the case early on.
“We always thought Ben was going to be a baseball player,” McGraw said Wednesday, after his 79 insured that he will play in the final two days of the 92nd amateur. “But he tore his ACL twice and he kind of took up golf.”
It was a rare event not to see McGraw at the BNI golf tournament and not see Ben.
It’s strange that way these days, too.
Golf certainly doesn’t lessen the burden for Greg, or any of Ben’s family.
“As any parent who loses a child can tell you, time doesn’t heal everything,” McGraw said. “In some way, it’s there every day. I think about Ben every day.”
McGraw didn’t just lose one child, young Rachel was taken many years ago.
And there is golf, a release but not necessarily a relief.
But one he relishes as he thinks happy thoughts about his two children, taken way too early.
“Golf gives you time ... it’s five hours so you have time to think about stuff,” McGraw said. “And I think about them both when I’m on the course. I think about how Ben used to call Rachel ‘sissy.’ You never truly get over those feelings. I guess golf is a release. It has always been there. And it was always there for Ben. I thought about both of them today.”
Those memories help keep McGraw on course.
And he likely will do the same over the next two days.
“This is my last one,” said McGraw, a long-time Amateur veteran. “I think we figured out I’ve played in 30 of them. But this is it. I wanted to play in one more. It’s nice to be staying around for the entire time.”
McGraw said he remembers the early days.
“Me, Danny Warren (a former Amateur champion) and Denny Vass would come down here and stay in a cabin owned by Billy Lane’s friend Larry Buchanan. We didn’t have any running water. We’d bring our clothes in garbage bags. But we thought we were the kings of everything back then.
“Back then you’d have 12 to 15 of the old Grandview gang over there on the Old White (course). Now, we don’t have as many of the old Beckley guys.”
Indeed, it’s all changed.
“We were standing on the driving range this morning, me, Pat Carter, Steve Fox, a bunch of us. Phil Zambos came by and said, ‘I remember when it used to be Pat Carter and the young guys. Now it’s Pat Carter and the old guys.’”
Of course, McGraw will still be around the links.
“I’m going to play in the senior events,” McGraw said. “And the BNI. I will always play in the BNI.”
Marking his ball in blue and gold and using a No. 7 ball.
Simple, yet undeniably fitting.